“[My maternal grandparents] came from a really strong community,” said Amaris Casillas, a ninth-grader at Denver’s Bruce Randolph School. “They were trying to find that [in Denver] as well, and they found it because Swansea was a strong Hispanic community – from that I got the visual of two hands grabbing each other to show unity.”
Casillas was one of nearly 60 students who participated in the school’s first-ever Youth Memory Project in partnership with History Colorado and CSU System during the Fall 2019 semester – an opportunity for BRS ninth- and 10th-grade students to gather, collect, and share oral, written, and visual histories of their communities.
Through interviewing her mother, whose parents immigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, to Denver in the late 1970s, Casillas realized how little she actually knew of her family’s immigration story.
“All I knew was that my grandfather brought my grandmother over – I didn’t know he was coming back and forth,” she said. “He was already a resident, but back then becoming a resident was really hard. Once he got everything done here, he brought my grandmother over.”
Casillas said the process taught her many techniques that will help her in the future, such as strategies for creating art from interviews and storytelling; it also reinforced her goal of studying immigration law.
“I want to help people who can’t bring their families over [to the U.S.].”
Preserving shared histories
The Youth Memory Project, part of History Colorado’s Museum of Memory initiative, represents one of multiple programs stemming from a formal and developing partnership between CSU System and Bruce Randolph School around the future CSU System Campus at the National Western Center. The project was funded by North Denver Cornerstone Collaborative through a grant to CSU System and History Colorado.
“History Colorado’s Museum of Memory initiative is a public history initiative that works together with Colorado residents to coauthor a shared history,” said History Colorado’s Director of Community Engagement Marissa Volpe.
Volpe guided students through an “oral history training” to document the changes occurring in their communities. The training included interviewing, photography, memory work, and transcription techniques.
“As founding partners of the National Western Center, both History Colorado and CSU System recognize the important role that community plays in the preservation of place,” said Volpe.
Bruce Randolph School teacher Doug Moehle led his AP Geography and Civics classes through the Youth Memory Project with technical support from CSU System and History Colorado.
“Working with the CSU team and History Colorado on this project has really helped the students to see the importance of considering all voices when researching a topic,” said Moehle. “Having two excellent Colorado institutions doing the heavy lifting during this process made for a much richer experience for all involved, especially me!”
Moehle’s AP Geography students focused more on aspects of culture and ethnicity, while students in his Civics class focused more on “compelling neighborhood and community issues.”
“By working with youth leaders to preserve these stories, students experience what it is like to participate in civic life by building more inclusive narratives of all the people who contribute to the fabric of community,” Volpe said.
On Nov. 20, nearly 60 students exhibited their projects to the public during an open house at Bruce Randolph School. Community members and partners joined in supporting students as they shared stories of family, community, and life in north Denver, through their own words, pictures, and other media.
“I was fortunate to join our amazing students as they prepared their final project. The stories they told were inspirational; the art they chose to represent their stories was incredibly thoughtful,” said Bruce Randolph School Principal Melissa Boyd. “Our students are so fortunate to engage in telling their stories with the support of the amazing team from CSU and History Colorado.”
“Working with History Colorado was really amazing,” said BRS 10th-grader Angel Maes, noting the support and resources she and her classmates received throughout the process.
Maes’ project highlighted the perspective of one of her eight sisters, Venessa, who helped Maes and her siblings find strength after the passing of their mother.
“The thing I learned most is that the little moments count,” said Maes. “Community is everything: if you don’t have community then you don’t feel safe, and you don’t feel at home anywhere.”
Coauthoring the future
CSU System’s new campus at the National Western Center is scheduled to open its doors to the community in 2022, and Chrissy Chard, assistant professor in CSU’s graduate program in Public Health and Health and Exercise Science wants to ensure youth voices play an integral role in developing the campus’s programming.
To this end, Chard is working with CSU System staff to establish a Youth Action Group, comprised of eight to 12 youth from the neighborhoods surrounding the future National Western Center in north Denver.
Chard said she sees her role with the Youth Action Group as ensuring their student voices are heard by connecting them with partner organizations that have a stake in the project. As they learn more about the programs and partnerships that will directly impact their communities, the Youth Action Group ultimately will “decide what they want to take on, what they want to take ownership of, and then how to advocate for that.”
“There’s such a power and a wisdom that young people have that we don’t often rely on,” she said. “My hope is that this is one opportunity to do that, and really trust and support their expertise.”
Skill-building, advocacy, engagement, and leadership development are top priorities of the student-led Youth Action Group, which will begin meeting regularly in Spring 2020.
“In some ways, this [Youth Memory Project] serves as an opportunity for students to begin exploring what’s most important within their community,” said Chard. “How can we move forward with that work in a more significant way?”
CSU System Campus at the National Western Center
Colorado State University System has made a long-term commitment to the future National Western Center and its surrounding communities in north Denver.
The CSU System Campus at the National Western Center will focus on research and educational programming in the areas of food, water, sustainability, and human and animal health within its three buildings: the CSU Water Building, CSU Animal Health Complex, and CSU Food and Agriculture Center. What’s inside the buildings will bring together the brightest minds, inspire the next generation, and address global challenges.
The University is currently working to engage with the community and to partner with local schools, nonprofits, and businesses to create impactful research, collaboration, and year-round programming to this unique project.
For additional information, visit nwc.colostate.edu.
Bruce Randolph School
Bruce Randolph School is located in north Denver and serves approximately 880 students, Grades 6-12. Bruce Randolph Middle School is a community of learners, with a core belief that the road to college starts in sixth grade by providing students a rigorous curriculum, a safe and supported learning environment, and a community that values each student. Bruce Randolph High School is a neighborhood high school with a focus on community and academic achievement, with a mission to graduate 100-percent of seniors prepared to succeed without remediation in a four-year college or university. For more information, visit randolph.dpsk12.org.
History Colorado has become a force for finding new and inclusive ways to serve Coloradans. In 2018 History Colorado provided programs to more than 18,000 students in their own schools, and assisted more than 40 schools with bus funds, to expand efforts that now serve more than 85,000 students annually. Its all-day Hands-On History program at El Pueblo History Museum responds to the four-day school week that is now administered by 61% of Colorado school districts.
History Colorado’s mission is to create a better future for Colorado by inspiring wonder in our past. We serve as the state’s memory, preserving the places, stories and material culture of Colorado through the History Colorado Center and statewide Community Museums, educational programs, historic preservation grants, research library, collections and outreach to Colorado communities. Visit HistoryColorado.org, or call 303-HISTORY, for more information.